Cases of respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) typically peak in December, but a surge in cases this year has already overtaxed some hospitals in the U.S.
In fact, all the pediatric hospital beds are already full in one state and 76% were full nationwide as the week started off, said a recent report.
“Surveillance has shown an increase in RSV detections and RSV-associated emergency department visits and hospitalizations in multiple U.S. regions, with some regions nearing seasonal peak levels,” per the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “Clinicians and public health professionals should be aware of increases in respiratory viruses, including RSV.”
Each year, approximately 2.1 million children age 5 and younger receive outpatient care for RSV infections, according to CDC data. Within four to six days of infection, people with RSV begin to develop symptoms such as runny nose, decrease in appetite, coughing, sneezing, fever and wheezing.
“These symptoms usually appear in stages and not all at once,” the centers explained. “In very young infants with RSV, the only symptoms may be irritability, decreased activity, and breathing difficulties.”
While the CDC notes that “almost all children will have had an RSV infection by their second birthday,” these infections can lead to other, life-threatening conditions.
Dr. Frank Overly, medical director for pediatric emergency medicine at Hasbro Children’s Hospital at Rhode Island Hospital in Providence, RI., said RSV was contributing to “numbers we’ve never seen before,” and long wait times at the facility, according to NBC. It is the only children’s hospital in Rhode Island.
On Monday, the 29 hospital’s beds were filled and there were 29 more patients in the waiting room, he said. In addition to RSV, Overly said that flu cases ae also rising.
“COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations in the United States have been decreasing for the past few months, but that decline has slowed in recent weeks,” said the CDC last week. “Meanwhile, cold and flu season is off to an earlier start than usual, with respiratory viruses like flu and respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) on the rise, especially among children. The combination of COVID-19, flu, and RSV could continue to stress the healthcare system this fall and winter.”
“At times, it’s getting up to over 40 families in the waiting room,” Overly said.
Some hospitals for adults in Rhode Island are treating pediatric patients, and others who require special care are being sent to pediatric hospitals in nearby states. However, Teresa Paiva Weed, president of the Hospital Association of Rhode Island, said hospitals throughout New England are strained this season.
Weed said Rhode Island Gov. Dan McKee’s office is expediting nurses’ licenses so out-of-state nurses can help cover staffing issues. Overly also suggested a state of emergency order to allocate more resources to hospitals.
According to a Nov. 1 press release from Pfizer, there is currently no specific treatment for RSV (only supportive measures) and no vaccine to prevent infection.
This may soon change, as the pharmaceutical company announced positive top-line data from the Phase 3 clinical trial investigating its bivalent RSV prefusion vaccine candidate, which was administered to pregnant participants.
“Vaccine efficacy of 81.8% was observed against severe medically attended lower respiratory tract illness due to RSV in infants from birth through the first 90 days of life with high efficacy of 69.4% demonstrated through the first six months of life,” Pfizer said.
Pfizer also found no safety concerns for mothers or newborns and it plans to submit a regulatory application by end of 2022.
In the meantime, “it’s vitally important that we protect ourselves and others from COVID-19 and all respiratory viruses,” during the holiday season, said the CDC. “You can do this through masking, testing, and other layered prevention measures such as improving ventilation and spending time outdoors.”